Glacier’s mountain goats: Alpine icon under observation
By Becky Lomax
Mark Biel, natural resources program manager for Glacier National Park, estimates that up to 100 mountain goats hang around the Logan Pass in the park’s sweeping, scenic and well-traveled zone between Hidden Lake, Haystack Butte and the East Side Tunnel. Delighted visitors frequently encounter the high alpine icons in the parking lot and on the Hidden Lake and Highline trails.
Those encounters are under observation.
That’s in part because the human footprint is growing in Glacier National Park.
Despite a well-used shuttle system designed to reduce vehicles on the Going-to-the-Sun Road, the Logan Pass parking lot still fills to capacity in midsummer by 10 a.m., and hikers have increased by 250 percent on some corridor trails. In addition to vehicle congestion and crowding on trails, the human footprint has upped pressure on wildlife, smashed vegetation, trampled trails wider, and spread non-native invasive plants at all shuttle stops.
The National Park Service – charged with balancing the delicate interplay between the visitor experience and protecting park resources – launched a Going-to-the-Sun Road corridor study to gather data to design a management plan. In addition to evaluating how to make the shuttle system financially viable, the plan aims to address congestion on the road and trails with an eye to the future. It’s a journey to answer the question of how to manage higher visitation, respond to future impacts and better protect resources.
To get tabs on the human footprint, the study is collecting data on levels of use and time of use on trails, roads and in parking lots.
But one of the big concerns is the increased pressure on wildlife, specifically with the interaction between humans and mountain goats in the Logan Pass area.
That’s where Biel comes in.
“We’re hoping that the study will give us a better idea of how to manage human interactions with wildlife,” Biel said. “Because mountain goats are so accessible at Logan Pass, it’s the poster child for human and wildlife interaction.”
Biel readily admits that little is known about mountain goats. Biologists don’t even know if the same goats hang out at Logan Pass year to year, or if the Haystack and Hidden Lake Overlook herds interchange with each other.
“We don’t even know when they come down from the cliffs. No research has occurred on mountain goats in the Logan Pass area to determine what impacts, if any, the high number of park visitors and associated trails and road may be having on mountain goats. We hope to learn more about the type and intensity of wildlife-human interactions as well as gain a better understanding of mountain goat movements on the landscape,” he said.
The three-year study, now in year two, is gathering data in several ways, including outfitting 20 mountain goats with radio and GPS collars. The effort unites the collaboration of biologists from the National Park Service, University of Montana and Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks.
Last summer, the biologists collared six adult goats – one male and five females – that will wear the collars until they are programmed to fall off in 2016. The less expensive collars contain radio transmitters that provide information only when the goats are tracked on foot or by air. Two of the females sport pricey GPS collars, which log their locations every two hours by satellite. As of the end of May, Biel had received more than 3,300 data points per goat.
The GPS collars should reveal mountain goat movement patterns: how and when they use roads and trails.
“We want to develop base line of the use, so we can manage human interactions effectively,” Biel said.
Even though Glacier’s mountain goat population seems healthy to Biel, the collaring process yields a chance to gather further data. At least one collaring occurred adjacent to the Hidden Lake Overlook Trail, offering hikers a rare look at the process. During the 20-30 minutes that the goat is sedated, biologists take blood, hair, mucus and fecal samples to assess health. Biologists hope tests can also reveal the levels of metabolites in goats that might come from licking antifreeze in the parking lots.
Biel hopes to answer one question: why goats hang out right near trails with so much human traffic?
Biologists speculate goats might be attracted to places where the number of humans may provide refuge from predators. This year, they aim to test that theory by dispersing bear and wolf scat in locations to see if the goats steer clear and broadcasting sounds of predators from a speaker to see how the goats react.
Because individual goats are hard to distinguish from one another, biologists may start marking some goats with a paintball pistol to observe repeated behaviors or interactions with visitors that may adversely affect the goats or humans. Before the paint fades away within two weeks, biologists should be able to track the goat’s movements by eyesight from a distance. Since the paintball pistol will also stimulate pain without injury, similar to hazing methods used on bears, biologists can also gather data on this technique as a method to condition goats to stay away from high use trails or other areas.
Wesley Sarmento, a graduate student from the University of Montana, plays a hefty day-to-day role in the mountain goat research. For 60 days last summer, he spent 12 hours per day keeping tabs on mountain goats at Logan Pass. On the Highline Trail, he watched goats block hikers from passing. He observed goats licking salts off handrails and places on the ground where people urinated. He saw a nanny charge when a person stepped between her and her kid. He spotted a feeding goat oblivious to a grizzly bear nearby, supporting the theory that the goats feel protected around humans.
Repeatedly, he noted positive visitor responses to the goats.
“People really enjoy seeing the goats,” he said. “Having close encounters with wildlife is an extraordinary experience, especially with the usually cliff-loving goats. For many people, it’s the highlight of their trip.”
Despite seemingly docile encounters between goats and people, Sarmento adds that visitors still need to maintain distance with the goats because any wild animal can be deadly.
While mountain goat research will aid the park service in understanding human-wildlife interactions, climate warming could pressure wildlife more with additional visitors.
“What if changing climate allows for earlier road openings and later closings, elongating the visitor season? What happens if visitation increases 10-15 percent? What does that translate to hikers on trails, cars on the road, and visitors trying to park?” Mary Riddle, chief of planning and environmental compliance for Glacier Park, poses the questions the park service must answer in the corridor study.
Visitors will help provide the answers. This summer, the park service will administer visitor surveys at multiple locations to assess public reactions to possible future management actions, some submitted by the public last year. Some potential actions may alter how visitors use the park: regulating certain trails with day permits, charging for parking at Logan Pass, not allowing overnight parking at Logan Pass, putting a time limit on parking at Logan Pass and Avalanche, hardening trails like the Avalanche Trail to accommodate higher use levels, making the Highline Trail one way during peak season, eliminating shuttle stops at some trailheads, or requiring a shuttle to access some trails.
“We want to hear from the public as this plan progresses and get their thoughts, ideas, reactions and preferences,” Riddle said. “We need their input so together we can develop a plan that will assure protection of park’s resources and provide continued opportunities for visitors to experience and enjoy this special place.”
Whatever the study finds, it may eventually change the shape of the human footprint, as well as how we interact with Glacier’s alpine icon mountain goats.
Becky Lomax is a longtime Montana Magazine contributor. She writes from Whitefish.
Montana Book Review: Montana parks inside and out
By Doug Mitchell
A look at the meticulous research examining the shrinking state of Glacier National Park’s icy namesakes. The story of an almost unthinkable hike across Glacier in the dead of winter. And a new tourist guide to the “granddaddy” of national parks, Yellowstone National Park.
Montana Magazine contributor Doug Mitchell reviews a handful of books based in or about Montana.
The Melting World
St. Martin’s Press, New York – 2013
Acclaimed science writer Christopher White uses the real-life laboratory of Glacier National Park to give us a hands-on look at the research at the center of the worldwide discussion about climate change.
In so doing, White provides an insight not only into one of this generation’s seminal public policy debates but also into the frozen world of one of Montana’s and America’s true gems; Glacier National Park.
The Melting World is the result of White’s research between 2008 and 2012. During that time, the author joined researchers on the ground in Glacier to measure the size of the park’s namesake masses of ice. As White writes in the introduction to this groundbreaking book, “The story of ice is the story of climate.”
The Melting World tells the story of climate in a very even-handed, scientific manner. Even the most hardened climate change skeptic will have a hard time not being impressed by the meticulous approach taken by the staff of the U.S. Geological Services as they perform the tedious but important work of measuring the iconic glaciers.
The writing is strong and the journey through which White takes us provides a unique insight into both the science of climate and the magic of Glacier Park.
One of my favorite lines in the book has nothing to do with science. Late in the book, during year four of his journey, White writes “Glacier is the one place where I can live in the present, past, and future, all at once.”
I couldn’t agree more. That is exactly the feeling I get when I spend time in the park as well, but I think in that poetic sentence, White is also telling us a little about science. You see, research of the present shows that the Glaciers are shrinking and in that we can see the future.
As any good scientist should, White works hard to let the results speak for themselves.
For me, he goes too far in this regard, leaving some obvious conclusions unspoken and even making what I thought was an odd choice by changing the names of certain of the researchers to protect their anonymity.
There’s nothing in this well researched book about which White or the research staff should be embarrassed.
The Melting World is an important story at an important time written by gifted storyteller. It deserves a space on the bookshelf of any fan of Glacier National Park.
Sweetgrass Books, Helena – 2013
OK, I’ll admit going in that I just don’t get it.
inaccessible is the nonfiction journey of one man’s attempt to hike across Glacier National Park in the winter. Now I like hiking just as much as the next guy – perhaps even a bit more – but hiking across Glacier National Park in the winter? That’s just plain crazy.
Which is perhaps part of what makes Richard Layne’s book so irresistible. I’m a sucker for a good adventure book and given my love for and familiarity with Glacier Park, inaccessible was a must read. Once I started it was hard to put down.
Layne has a story to tell and he does it well. His solo adventure finds him facing thoughts of his own mortality and a foe in the harsh climate that seemed in some sense alive and on the prowl. At one point of high drama he writes, “To fertilize my fear, much of the time as I traveled the length of the elongated peak, the cornice lay hidden inside the clouds like a hungry carnivore lying unseen in the bushes next to the trail.”
Gripping prose for a gripping moment in an incredible adventure not meant for the faint of heart.
Now, those of you who might dismiss this ill-advised trip as the folly of youth, please understand that Layne is a fully-grown man of 63 years who has done this kind of thing before – many times before – in his 40-plus years of backpacking. He knew what he was doing, followed the rules and, to all of our benefit, lived to write about it.
For those of you familiar with hiking in Glacier, all you have to know is that his plan was to hike Hole in the Wall in the dead of winter. When you stop chuckling, read on. You see, to his credit, Layne had the same trepidation, and the multi-season story of his stalking of the access to Hole in the Wall is impressive both in its respect for the place and the author’s tireless preparation.
inaccessible is a book that will have you shaking your head. How can a guy nearly freezing to death be so worried about his next cup of camp stove coffee?
I think that kind of quirkiness is what I found so charming about the book and Layne. I’ve never met the man, but am betting he sure would be a fun guy to talk to, over a cup of coffee of course.
“The Best of Yellowstone National Park”
Farcountry Press, Helena – 2014
No conversation about parks in Montana can be complete without talking about the granddaddy of them all – Yellowstone National Park.
There is lots of good reading material about Yellowstone and this year Alan Leftridge, a former seasonal naturalist at Yellowstone and ranger in the Mission Mountains Wilderness adds a handy, easy to manage tourist guide to the bibliography.
“The Best of Yellowstone National Park” provides a little something for everyone. It is organized by topics and features the highlights for everything from “Best Day Hikes” and “Best Backpacking” to “Best Mudpots” and “Best Names of Natural Features.”
I tested the description of one of my favorite hikes to Slough Creek and the description is right on the money.
You’ll want and need other resources to plan a trip in to this American landmark, but “The Best of Yellowstone National Park” is a great place to start.
My only disappointment as an avid fisherman is that the section on fishing is a bit light. That said, it’s not a fishing book and, quite honestly, I’m at least a bit secretly happy that some of my favorite spots remain a mystery.
Doug Mitchell is the Montana Magazine book reviewer. He writes from Helena.
Portfolio: A Century of Stories
Photography of Thomas Lee
That’s the word photographer Thomas Lee uses to describe the Montana ranching and farming families that have worked their land – year after year, generation after generation – for 10 decades or more.
Lee, who has traveled Montana for more than 20 years making images from across the state, looks at it this way: “To stick with something for six weeks is said to be all that’s needed to form a habit,” Lee said. “These days, to have a job for 10 years is something of an achievement. To spend an entire lifetime on something is remarkable, and to spend multiple lifetimes in dogged determination is downright admirable.”
Consider this, Lee continued, Montana has been a state for 125 years this November. It was named a territory just a generation earlier. People have been ranching and farming this country for about as long, but we all know that times and ideas change, evolve. “New generations are born with their own ambitions,” Lee said. “When a ranch or farm stays in one family over a span of 10 decades or more, it’s to be celebrated.”
It’s in that spirit that Lee presents the images of three Montana families that have earned special Montana Historical Society recognition through the organization’s Montana Centennial Farm and Ranch Program.
Out of 28 families honored so far, Lee found that the Armstrongs, the Mercers and the Bangs prove that a century spent on the same patch of ground will always yield its share of stories.
To view the entire Montana centennial ranches photo portfolio, find this issue on newsstands now. To read more about Montana all year, subscribe now.
Reflections on Montana
Sent by Shirley Underwood, CDR, USN (Ret.), Ft. Belvoir, Virginia
Ever since my childhood in Havre, Montana, I have always viewed the outline of my state map as the personification of an old man with a craggy side and a soft side, reflected in the topography of the state, i.e., the Rockies in the west and the prairies in the east. To share this interpretation with other Montanans, I have written a poem.
I was born in Helena, raised in Havre, and graduated from the University of Missoula in 1957. I am a former English teacher and after having spent 20 years in the U.S. Navy, I retired as a Commander in 1978. I now reside in Ft. Belvoir, Va., where I continue to write. My article, “Reconciling, A mother-and-child reunion”, was published in the Montana Magazine in the May-June issue of 1988.
The photograph with the poem was made by Rachel J. Sarbaugh, while vacationing in Montana. The image was taken at sunrise at Lake McDonald in West Glacier National Park.
Big Sky Spotlight: Meet Koni Dole
By JIM GRANSBERY
Photo by PAUL RUHTER
It was the final game of the 2012 prep football season when Huntley Project High School’s Koni Dole suffered a compound fracture to his lower right leg.
Putting a bone break that pierces muscle and skin back in place is a delicate procedure, and one with which orthopedic surgeons are frequently confronted.
Never a routine procedure nor predictable of outcome, Dole’s leg developed “compartment syndrome,” which left him with a choice most people – let alone a teenager with aspirations of a collegiate football career – would find daunting: a useless foot for the rest of his life or amputation.
Dole reasoned that his “best chance of coming back” was to accept the loss of his lower right leg and move forward.
Two months after amputation, he was on the wrestling mat for the Red Devils.
When the 2013 football season opened, Dole was on the field. Fitted with a blade-runner, Dole started the game as a fullback on offense and a lineman on defense. He scored two touchdowns in a 45-0 victory over Joliet. In August, he will join the Montana State University Bobcats football team as a preferred walk-on.
With a pair of very intense brown eyes, Dole is the walking definition of focused. In a private interview after a strenuous workout accompanied by his best friend, Tanner Miller, Dole described his thought processes leading up to his decision that the way forward was to cut back his damaged leg.
“I was stuck in bed for a week,” he said. “Everything was OK. One day my parents (Nancy and Fualelei Andy Dole) came into the room. They were upset. There was a look on their faces.
“Everything that controls the foot was gone. I had a non-functioning foot. It was depressing. I had worked my (butt) off. I had goals. But the choice lit a fire in me. Actions speak louder than words, so I had to accept it. It was my best chance of coming back.”
Coincidently, one of Dole’s heroes is the South African Olympian, Oscar Pistorius, who ran in the 400-meter semi-finals in the 2012 London Games. Nicknamed the “Blade Runner” because of the two prosthetic devices he wore, Pistorius’s athletic efforts were an inspiration to Dole.
He, too, would run again on the football field.
The day after the amputation, the team came in to visit.
“I told them I was OK,” Dole said. “There were tears. It was very emotional.”
“The first three months were depressing,” he said.
To say nothing of the pain.
Yet there were uplifting moments and he moved quickly to be fitted with a prosthesis. Jay Murray at Treasure State Orthotics and Pro was there to help.
“He was the perfect guy for me,” Dole said.
Dole and Murray wanted to get on with the construction and fitting of a prosthesis, Dole said, but “the doctors said we should wait. I wanted to do it now, the doctors were trying to hold me back. They were going by the book. I did some research and felt I had a chance. It was the only way forward. I knew it was not going to be easy.”
The pervasive attitude of the young man is governed by the command: “I can do it.”
Two months out of surgery, Dole was wrestling for his high school team minus the artificial limb as competition rules prohibit them.
“I wanted people to know how hard I worked,” he said.
Lifting weights for hours was an almost daily routine.
High school sports in rural Montana are the social identity of many of its residents. This is especially true of Class B and C divisions.
Dole was quick to respond to a question about which three words describe Montana. With no hesitation, he rattled-off, “close-knit communities.”
That was demonstrated specifically as a local fundraising effort on his behalf provided the $30,000 needed for the high-tech athletic prosthesis.
Dole graduates in May from Huntley Project High School. August will find him at MSU in Bozeman with the Bobcat football team as a preferred walk-on, which means he is part of the team, but with no scholarship money.
He sees himself as possibly playing at linebacker. The six-foot, 208-pound athlete bench presses 315 pounds and runs the 40-yard dash at 4.8 seconds.
“That was before surgery. I’m just as fast now.”
Where do you go to relax, escape?
The weight room or football field to run.
Three words that describe Montana.
Portfolio: Montana’s farmers markets off the good stuff
Photography of LYNN DONALDSON
A unique slice of Montana life begins awaken each spring after the seeds have sprouted and the trees’ buds have flowered and began to fruit.
Goods of all kinds are gathered, cleaned, sorted and readied in crates and barrels.
Tables and tents pop up along Main Streets, which become a special place to show off and sell local bounty and novel creations that have been grown and made in Montana.
The concept of growing, making and selling homemade products in a farmers market setting has never more alive and well.
In fact, the farmers markets page on the Montana Department of Agriculture’s website says that farmers markets play a valuable role in promoting healthy local economies.
To view the entire Montana’s Farmers Markets photo portfolio, find this issue on newsstands now. To read more about Montana all year, subscribe now.
Montana Book Reviews: Premium Page Turners
By DOUG MITCHELL
A jungle fighter pilot’s refreshingly real and personal look at the Vietnam War, a debut mystery novel featuring a fiery heroine and a thought-provoking ranch life memoir from the Madison Valley. Montana Magazine contributor Doug Mitchell reviews a handful of books based in or about Montana. Below, read an author Q&A with Badluck Way author Bryce Andrews.
Jungle Fighter Pilots
By Bernie Hale
PC Publishing, Kernersville, North Carolina, 2012
In his book Jungle Fighter Pilots, Missoula Sentinel High School (1963) and University of Montana (1967) graduate Bernie Hale shares an amazingly readable story about his personal experiences as a U.S. Air Force pilot during the Vietnam War. I opened the pages of this book expecting a challenging, somewhat dark memoir about one of America’s most difficult conflicts. What I found instead was a remarkably refreshing, straightforward book that reads more like a travelogue than a war story. That said, this is one unusual travelogue.
While Hale humbly describes his service as a compilation of day-to-day activities, it is impossible for the reader not to shake his or her head at the incredible courage and heroism displayed by Hale and his colleagues. If you are like me, when you think “Air Force pilot” you picture a sleek jet with high tech instruments flown by guys nicknamed “Iceman” and “Maverick.” The reality for Hale was a bit different. Hale and his fellow “jungle fighter pilots” flew single engine Cessnas with a top speed of somewhere around 90 miles per hour. With this, Hale and his fellow “Tums” led fighter missions day after day in enemy territory during the heat of the conflict.
I found the book to be charming and compelling. It’s not going to win any literary prizes, but I don’t think that was the author’s goal. His personal story of the Vietnam War he fought is told without political commentary or personal angst. It is a clear-eyed reflection on a unique time in military history and I’m glad I came across it.
By Gwen Florio
The Permanent Press, Sag Harbor, New York, 2013
This book had me at “hello.” The combination of a strong female heroine, its Montana setting, and the hold-on-to-your-seat pacing is, for me, a recipe for a long and enjoyable weekend of reading. I had the chance to run into the author, Gwen Florio, from time to time during her time as a reporter for the Missoulian and am not at all surprised by the quality of her writing in this book, which is her first novel.
Set in the north central part of the state, Montanais a novel that transports the reader into a Montana that can only be depicted by someone as familiar with the state as Florio. Add to this the author’s ability to use descriptive language to paint a literary picture and Florio has given us a real treasure.
An example of the quality of the writing is shown with this line about the heroine, Lola Wicks, experiencing her first Montana wildfire up close: “Lola’s lungs burned. She couldn’t see the fire anymore, but she heard it, the stiff swish of taffeta rubbing against itself. Smoke drifted in shreds, obscuring and then revealing the trail.” Great stuff.
In Montana we meet hard edged journalist Wicks who has reluctantly come to Montana to visit a fellow journalist, Mary Alice Carr. When Lola finds her friend dead of a gunshot wound, the game is on. But that’s all you will get from me. The rest is beyond my limited abilities to describe. Suffice it to say, this book is well worth adding to your summer reading list.
I have read a lot of mystery fiction and I think Florio has the chops to be a member of that elite group of authors. Her writing is strong, her characters rich and her ability to describe a sense of place is extraordinary.
By Bryce Andrews
Atria Books, New York, New York, 2013
One can hardly pick up a Montana newspaper without reading about the current policy debates about wolves, wildlife, ranching, land development, conservation and out-of-state land owners. The opinions on these issues are varied, valid and voiced with confidence and conviction.
In Badluck Way author and ranch hand Bryce Andrews moves the debate from policy to practice as he shares with us his year working on the Sun Ranch in the magnificent Madison Valley. In doing so, Andrews challenges us to see these debates differently because, as is often the case, the reality of a real-life decision is very different than an intellectual one.
But to describe Andrews’ book as a useful and interesting academics-meets-real-life story is to significantly diminish the accomplishments of this first book from a very gifted writer.
Badluck Way is a beautifully written book that had me marking page after page filled with quotes to which I wanted to be sure to return. I’ve been blessed to spend some time in the wild lands of Montana in general and in the Madison Valley in particular, and I found Andrews’ descriptions to be evocative of the Montana I know. For example, when he writes about waiting out a storm: “We let the fire die when the storm broke, and rode together toward the higher pastures and the barn. Every tree was dripping and the creeks had swollen. It occurred to me that I had achieved a rare thing: I was living at the center of my heart’s geography. And I knew it.”
Andrews also uses an interesting format throughout the book where he inserts a few italicized mini-chapters as seen through the eyes of the wolves that make their home on and near the ranch. In a sense, the wolves are as much or more a part of this story as Andrews himself. Again, the language he uses is beautiful as he envisions the wolves courting ritual this way: “They orbited each other, sniffing at tracks and keeping a safe distance. They courted across half a dozen drainages and bounced howls off the bottom of the moon.”
But Badluck Way is more than just a beautifully written book about the American West. The conflict the author has between his personal viewpoint and the realities of ranch life, particularly as they involve the iconic wolf, provides a raw tension that makes this very good book a truly great one.
Like any good work of nonfiction, Badluck Way raised more questions than it answered so I tracked down the author and asked him some of those questions.
MM: First, congratulations on a very successful first book. When did you realize your year on the Sun Ranch was a book in the making?
Bryce Andrews: I took notes while working on the Sun. Though I was immersed in the chaotic hustle of summer ranch work, and had little time or energy for creative pursuits, I was aware that I was living a rare story. From the beginning, I felt that it was important to record the story and landscape as best I could.
Still, most notes don’t see the light of day as a book, no matter what sort of story they record. Badluck Way really began to take shape while I was working on a graduate degree in the University of Montana’s Environmental Studies program. In that program, with the guidance of good teachers like Phil Condon, I started to believe that my notes and essays could come together as a narrative.
MM: Badluck Way is beautifully written and you have a clear interest in and skillful hand with words, can you trace from where your interest in the written word originated?
BA: I love good stories, and the way that language caroms through the mind. A passion for words, meaning, and the connection that can arise between a speaker and his audience has been with me for a very long time. Early on, stories offered me a chance to be closer to people I cared about. Regardless of whether I was talking or listening, it felt good to share an experience with somebody. Although I was raised around visual art – my dad ran an art museum, and my mom is a photographer – I always felt like storytelling was the most intimate form of communication.
I also struggle to remember things, even important ones, unless I put them in print. The fear of losing my most important stories is what drives me to write them down.
MM: When people unfamiliar with your book ask you what it is about, what do you say?
BA: Sometimes I just say that the book is about wolves and cattle, but that’s certainly not the whole of it. At its heart, Badluck Way is about making a living on the ragged edge of man’s range. It is about the work of ranching, and how that work forces a person to participate in—rather than simply observe – the mortal drama of the natural world.
Badluck Way is about the beauty and brutality of truly wild places, and the fact that precious few such places remain. I hope the book makes people think about how we’re treating the land that sustain us all, and how we ought to occupy the big, arid, and increasingly crowded landscape of the contemporary West.
MM: The book is full of personal discovery and the many conundrums facing the increasing friction if you will between wildlife and man. If you had a magic wand, what would you do to create a more harmonious co-existence?
BA: Thanks for promoting me to the role of benevolent, omnipotent despot. If the goal is to live well and harmoniously with the natural world – which I think it should be – I’d start by waving my magic wand in the following two directions:
First, I’d strip away certain accumulated layers of myth and prejudice, and challenge people to see wild creatures for what they truly are. Wolves, for instance, live bloody lives. They are smart, social creatures, but they kill for a living. Where our world brushes against theirs, we should always expect some trouble, some loss, and some violence. We can work to minimize this friction, of course, but we should accept and embrace the difficult parts of coexisting with the wild.
Second, I’d compel every inhabitant of our region to think deeply about his or her relationship to wild, open space, and the importance of sharing that space – a word used here in the physical, emotional, and social senses – with wild animals. We talk a lot about open space and wilderness in the West. We legislate for or against it, bicker over it, but seldom stop to think about how deeply it defines us. I do not think I’m alone in drawing sanity, strength, and hope from wild things and wild places. Sanity, strength, and hope are the largesse of an intact landscape. I think it’s important to remember that when we lose a cow, or a sheep, or sleep because the pack is harrying the herd.
MM: In the first half or so of the book you write short pieces in italics from the wolf’s perspective, but they abruptly end when the shooting happens. Was that intentional?
BA: I suppose so. I had to go on living without the wolf after that day, and thought it was important for the reader to have a similar experience.
MM: At one point in the book you say that “Often I was tempted to construe ranching as nothing more than a protracted act of violence.” With a few years in the rear view mirror since your experience on the Sun Ranch, how has your opinion evolved as you continue conservation ranching on the Dry Cottonwood Creek Ranch?
BA: Ranching is the running sum between increase and destruction, and my years at Dry Cottonwood taught me how easily the different parts of that equation can slip in and out of focus. If I’m sure of anything, though, it’s the fact that nothing ruins the land for wildlife and livestock as quickly or finally as irresponsible development. Though I’m still relatively young, I’ve witnessed the fragmentation of many of my favorite places.
Ranchers make mistakes. Livestock, especially if poorly managed, can wreak havoc on native species and the natural world. However, so long as the land stays open and undeveloped, we have great cause for hope in the West.
In ranching, I see a rare and valuable way of making a living from the land without wholly destroying the order of natural world. Doing this in perpetuity is our great collective challenge, and our best hope for sustainable inhabitation of the American West.
MM: You share with us as readers that you spent the long winter hours on the ranch reading. What kind of books might we find in your personal bookshelf?
BA: My bookshelves are crammed, bowed, and poorly organized. On them, you’ll find texts like the following: Aldo Leopold, Sand County Almanac; Bruce Chatwin, The Songlines; Paul Shephard, Coming Home to the Pleistocene; Loren Eiseley, The Unexpected Universe; David Quammen, Monster of God; Hugh Brody, Maps and Dreams; Debra Magpie Earling, Perma Red; Charles Bowden, Blue Desert; and M.Wylie Blanchet, The Curve of Time.
MM: Last, I can’t help but ask about Number 512. You seem to have a particular connection with this heifer, what was it?
BA: I don’t know that I ever felt a close connection with 512, at least not the sort of bond I’ve developed with good horses or the occasional exceptional bull. But I did respect the sheer orneriness of that heifer. Down deep, I liked the fact that her desires were non-negotiable. I admired 512 for her intractability and because she stood out as an individual. She shattered my perception of the herd as a homogenous unit, and stood as living, charging, bawling proof that a cow was more than a walking stack of steaks.
Dig and Preserve: Project aims to restore buried Indian reservation
By JON AXLINE
Just because you can’t see it anymore, doesn’t necessarily mean that significant information isn’t still there.
Nowhere is that better illustrated than at the site of the second Crow Agency in Stillwater County. Known by various names, including Absaroka Agency, the spot was occupied from 1875 to 1884 but completely disappeared from Montana’s landscape by the second decade of the 20th century.
The agency played an important role in the Centennial Campaign of 1876 when Colonel John Gibbon hired 23 Crow scouts there that summer to assist the U.S. Army in the war against the Lakota and Northern Cheyenne Indians.
To the Crow people, the agency represents something far different – the difficult and painful transition the tribe made from the self-sufficient days when they followed the bison herds to a more sedentary life on the reservation and dependence on the federal government for food and other necessities.
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